A Brief History
On October 11, 1975, the iconic television show Saturday Night Live made it debut with the late, great George Carlin hosting. Guest performers included Andy Kaufman, Billy Preston and Janis Ian. That memorable show featured Janis Ian singing her second major hit song, “At Seventeen.”
Her first hit had been the controversial song “Society’s Child (Baby I’ve Been Thinking),” a song that dealt with a relationship between a 16-year-old white, Jewish girl and a black man.
Initially released in 1965, the song about interracial love was released 3 times before it made the charts in 1967. It was subsequently banned from many radio stations and record stores. A radio station that did play it burned down, and Ian received hate mail and death threats. Before the release of “At Seventeen,” it looked like Janis Ian would remain a one-hit wonder.
Over the years many songs have tweaked the public’s sensitive nature with lyrics talking about or alluding to taboo sexual subjects. Here 9 such songs that generated secret giggles or controversy are listed. Which ones would you include in a sequel list?
9. “Je t’aime…moi non plus,” Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birken, 1969
Originally written for Brigitte Bardot, French singer-songwriter Serge Gainsbourg eventually recorded it with his girlfriend, actress Jane Birken. Though it was banned by many countries, “Je t’aime…moi non plus” managed to make it to #1 in the UK. Overtly sexual just from its sound alone (Jane simulated getting off during the recording), many school girls giggled even more after they learned the literal translation of the French lyrics in the refrain was “I go and I ‘come’ between your loins.” History and Headlines Trivia: The Bardot version was eventually released in 1986.
8. “Wet Dream,” Kip Adotta, 1984.
In the absolutely hilarious spoken song of double entendres utilizing an “aquatic” motif, comedian Kip Adotta weaves a tale of a man who after picking up a girl and having sex her, ends up with a case of the “clams.” Even the title of the song is innuendo. This song receives the author’s highest recommendation of all the great songs listed here. History and Headlines Trivia: Kip Adotta is also the guy who sang “I Saw Daddy Kissing Santa Claus.”
7. “Let’s Spend the Night Together,” Rolling Stones, 1967.
Back in the 1950s and 60s the biggest stage in the world to strut your stuff on was the Ed Sullivan Show. Prudish Sullivan would not allow the Stones to perform “Let’s Spend The Night Together” until they agreed to change the lyrics to “Let’s spend some time together” instead. Not only did Mick Jagger roll his eyes when he sang the substitute line, the band dressed in Nazi uniforms when they returned to the stage to protest the censorship. Ed Sullivan went bonkers and ordered them to change their clothes, but the band then left the studio.
6. “Alive,” Pearl Jam, 1991.
Pearl Jam’s first single, “Alive,” is about a boy who resembles his dead father and is involved in an incestuous relationship with his mother who apparently misses her dead husband. Meanwhile, the mother is remarried, and the boy is shocked to discover that his step father is not his real father. The song is the first in a trilogy in which the boy grows to manhood and goes mad; in the second song (“Once”), he becomes a murderer; in the third song (“Footsteps”), he sits in prison and reflects upon his life. Pretty heavy stuff.
5. “Brother Louie,” Hot Chocolate/Stories, 1973.
Originally sung by Hot Chocolate and then remade by the Stories, “Brother Louie” is about “forbidden” love between a white man (“whiter than white”) and a black woman (“black as the night”). Although not as divisive a topic as back in 1967 (see article introduction), interracial relationships were still a largely taboo subject in the U.S. in 1973. That controversy helped propel the song to #1 in the American charts.
4. “Closer,” Nine Inch Nails, 1994.
Written and performed by Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor, “Closer” ranked #2 on AOL’s list of the “69 Sexiest Songs of All Time.” Motley Crue’s drummer Tommy Lee called the song the sexiest song of all (paraphrase). The explicit lyrics and the accompanying music video are too extreme for regular broadcast and are censored when played over the air. Actually supposed to be about sexual obsession and self-hate, this steamy song is usually understood as a “throbbing” tribute to lust. Ironically, it is sometimes known as “Closer to God.”
3. “My Ding-a-Ling,” Chuck Berry, 1972.
A remake of a 1952 song, Chuck Berry recorded this hit (#1 in the U.S. and the UK) live in front of an audience in Coventry, England to a rousing response. Hinting at masturbation, “My Ding-a-Ling “shocked religious sensibilities, however, a movement to get the song banned on the BBC failed. Not explicitly sexual, the innuendo alone is enough to infuriate prudes on either side of the Atlantic. In the U.S., some radio stations refused to play the song, and even on the America’s Top 40 radio show it was sometimes replaced with a different song.
2. “Lola,” The Kinks, 1970.
Written by Ray Davies, “Lola” is about either a transsexual or transvestite who was picked up by an unsuspecting man in Soho, London. Based on a real-life experience of the band’s manager, the song ranked #422 on Rolling Stone’s top 500 songs of all time. It only peaked at #9 in the U.S. charts, but it did make it to #1 in some other countries. It was originally banned by the BBC, but not for its sexual content but rather because of its reference to Coca-Cola that needed to be changed to “cherry cola.” A live performance was released in 1980 and this version charted as high as #81.
1. “Dinah Moe Humm,” Frank Zappa, 1973.
From the album Over-Nite Sensation, “Dinah Moe Humm” is a song about a woman who bets that a certain man cannot make her reach climax. She is finally aroused, however, after watching him have sex with her sister. Not only did this song appall conservative Americans, but when Ike and Tina Turner were brought into the studio to sing back up, Tina Turner reacted so strongly to it that she exclaimed, “What is this shit?” before storming out. Zappa, an atheist and avid opponent of organized religion, traditional education, the government and censorship, had a career-long portfolio of music that was outside of the mainstream.
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